2014 Dora Kelley Nature Park Frog Watchers Brave Roller Coaster Season

by Kasha Helget

A dedicated team of neighbors who live near the Dora Kelley Nature Park in Alexandria withstood the erratic weather for more than three weeks, from February 27 to March 23, to track the movement of frogs to the park’s marsh area where they breed in the late winter. This was the second year for the patrol in which individuals note the movements of frogs (primarily Northern Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus). These frogs winter in the adjacent woods and make the annual trek to the marsh where they likely were born. We then share the information with Mark Kelly and Jane Yeingst at Buddie Ford Nature Center for their frog database.

The neighbors partnered every other evening on an average for about an hour to count the frogs that crossed a path to and from the marsh and note the conditions –– temperature, wind, noise level, and other area observations.

Northern spring peeper on path photographed 3-24-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Northern Spring Peeper on path photographed 3-24-14.


Wood frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro.

Wood Frog in marsh photographed 3-19-14.

Spring peepers and wood frog calls reached over 85 dB on 3-12-14.


The noise level is particularly noteworthy because the male frogs can make quite a din to attract a female mate. And generally the peepers, which are tinier than the wood frogs, make the greatest racket.

On a recent night, the combined din was registered at over 85 decibels!

This year was particularly challenging because of the weather. We had to shorten early watches because the conditions were too harsh, and cancel a number of patrols because of snow or severe cold. The frogs just don’t move in bad weather. So, the watch period was extended a week to track the late-comers. At the height of the watch period, upwards of 25 to 30 frogs crossed the path within the hour period, and they were not shy about mating in front of onlookers.

Spring peeper mating pair on path photographed 3-12-14. Image courtesy: Linda Shapiro

Spring Peeper mating pair on path photographed 3-12-14.

Unfortunately, none of the patrollers saw any Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) this year. We checked with Alonso and Rachael at Long Branch, and Jennifer at Gulf Branch, who all confirmed that it was a lean year for salamander-spotting. No one had seen any of the salamanders’ spermatophores or egg masses, either. The weather was likely the culprit. Given that it’s so late in the season, the females will probably just reabsorb the eggs and hold out till next year to mate. Our fingers are crossed that, with a less harsh winter next year, the Spotted Salamanders will return.

Photos courtesy of Linda Shapiro.